Friday, April 30, 2010

Reliably Replicating Phenotype

I will preface this journal entry with an admission: I understand very little about equine genetics.

I do comprehend the difference between genotype (the inherited genetic information) and phenotype (the environmentally influenced observable results of how inherited genes express themselves morphologically, physiologically and behaviorally).

Genetically, the Sorraia and the Sorraia Mustang horses do not have an unadulterated lineage that can, definitively lay claim to them being a "pure breed", and, to my knowledge, no one involved with the preservation of the Sorraia horses has made such claims. These horses do not represent a "breed", though they are often referred to as such. Some researchers understand the Sorraia to reflect an ancestral "form" of primitive equine, most likely the Southern Iberian variant of the Tarpan (Equus ferus).

The Tarpan is thought to have dwelled in as diverse regions as France, Iberia and Russia and likely many others with phenotypical variations relating to the environments they existed within--thus we hear of the "Forest Tarpan" and the "Steppe Tarpan".

The last remaining Tarpan died in 1876.

Some descriptions tell of variants that had convex profiles, others had concave...some had upright manes, others had falling manes. Some were a bit shorter, others a bit taller--but they all were fine limbed with well articulated tapered heads and all were considered "mouse dun" in colour, with hues ranging from very light (almost white) to very dark (almost black) and as such they had prominent dorsal stripes and often stripes on their legs and shoulders and bi-coloured manes and tails.

My understanding is the Tarpan represented a genetic subspecies of wild equine and expressed variations in phenotype relating to which ever environment it adapted itself to and it was distinctly different than the wild Asiatic horse (Przewalski's Horse). In prehistoric cave paintings we find not only images remarkably similar to Przewalski's Horse, but also to the Tarpan in both its variant forms, one looking more like the Celtic pony and the other looking much more like the Sorraia. Incidentally, the medieval Iberians described striped wild horses of like characteristics that lived in their region and they called them Zebros.

Here at the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve, our desire has been to assist in the preservation of the genetically bottlenecked Sorraia--the indigenous wild horse of southern Spain and Portugal--(dare I say the Iberian Tarpan?) by assembling a small group of North American mustang mares from various Iberian-influenced strains that each possess Sorraia characteristics and crossing them with a purebred Sorraia to enhance genetic variability.

Our foundation mares are:

--Ciente, a "purebred" Kiger Mustang
--Bella, a "purebred" Spanish Mustang
--Belina, part Spanish Mustang/part feral Appaloosa Mustang pony
--Zorita, part Sorraia/part Sulphur Mustang

Our Sorraia stallion, Altamiro and his harem of Sorraia Mustang mares are this year presenting us with their third "foal crop" which so far shows such remarkable uniformity among them and the first two years' offerings, one cannot help but conceive that the phenotype of the Iberian Tarpan is alive and well--testifying to the strength of the ancestral genetics that remain in present day horses and were just waiting for the right environment to consolidate the way this particular phenotypical expression manifests itself.

For me, this validates several assumptions regarding the Sorraia and the Sorraia type mustang...they must have a genetic link, more determinable than mtDNA and that the reliable reproducibility demonstrated here at Ravenseyrie suggests that pairing "like with like" regardless of "pedigree" is a valuable means of approaching preservation (at least for primitive horse forms) when environmental conditions are as close to a wild habitat as possible.

Throughout this journal entry, I've been treating you to photos of Belina and Altamiro's third filly!
She was born yesterday afternoon.

Mother and baby are in good form, and Altamiro looks after them with the firm diligence we've come to expect.

As soon as we discover what name this filly finds acceptable, I will post it to the blog.

I will end by saying I don't mind that I am scientifically illiterate--for me the visual manifestation of our preservation efforts speaks volumes and needs no peer-reviewed study to demonstrate that the the genetics of the prehistoric wild European horses have not been totally lost.

How fitting that an ancestral horse form that originally evolved in North America, went extinct here in its homeland, but survived in Europe and and is perilously close to disappearing there, has found consolidation so readily back in North America as demonstrated here at the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve. I hope others will engage in this type of preservation to further consolidate and protect a form of horse that transcends time and space.

Please write me if you are interested in establishing a preserve on a tract of suitable land. I can put you in touch with people who have excellent examples of Sorraia Mustangs and those who have purebred Sorraia horses. Email:


June said...

Oh, she's an old soul.

Hilary Lohrman said...

Congratulations, Lynne, on the arrival of a lovely new filly. Each time I see your horses and think about your work, I send you prayers and good energy and so much appreciation.

I know that her name will come clear to you. May I just share that I hear the word, "Rose" as a part of something that resonates with her. It feels like it may be part of a name that she recognises.

Spanish Sulphurs said...

Lynne, I would agree in your post that calling the Sorraia the "Iberian Tarpan" is a bit more than stretching the truth. The closest thing we have to the original wild Tarpan is the Konik being that they have a documented strong Tarpan influence.

I do think that using horses that look similar to the Sorraia is a good idea to increase their gene pool. So long as those horses are helping to influence the Sorraia is not rare in themselves (ie Using Spanish Sulphur horse mares in the crossing to Sorraia stallions. There are less than 100 quality individuals in the world of California's historic Spanish horse breed in which Spanish Sulphur people are suffering to find quality horses in which to keep the Spanish Sulphur breed from reaching a genetic bottleneck like the Sorraia has done. The one benefit that the Sulphur has vs. the Sorraia is that the Spanish Sulphur didn't start out with 12 individuals like the Sorraia).

Your Sorraia mare Zorita's dam Tia has only one purebred Spanish Sulphur offspring and we have no idea where that mare is or if she is still alive. I am sure that you can appreciate the Spanish Sulphur in that they are proven genetically old Iberian horses and how frustrating it is to see incredibly rare old Iberian mares being used in crossbreeding to the detriment of their own breed. The Spanish Sulphur has been used so numerously to improve other Spanish horse programs or even the BLM turning them out to improve remount BLM Mustangs and mismanaging the wild horses on the Sulphur HMA that I am not even sure if there are anymore Spanish horses on the HMA. Then we have people crossbreeding mares and not standing quality stallions. The horse that helped establish the great state of California is on the verge of extinction. Here is an article about them that was just publish in the CA Riding Magazine that I wrote:

Anyways, sorry for getting carried away. Good job on producing horses that you consider are good for your Sorraia preservation project.

Kris McCormack said...

Congratulations Belina, Altamiro, Kevin and Lynne! And, a HUGE welcome to the world to the not-yet-named one. May you have a long, healthy, and happy life, and may you know only respect, kindness, and love from the human beings you encounter.

Kate said...

My comment to this post has little to do with the post. I only started reading your blog a month ago but have read every word you've written. I am absolutely in love with your farm and your horses, and relieved to have found in your words someone who feels exactly as I do about horses.

Before I jump into my heavy matter, let me give you my complete congratulations on the new filly, and tell you that I love your words so very much.

I have taken exactly one riding lesson from a human in my entire life, and it ended when the instructor informed me of the "ask-tell-command" sequence. I got off the pony and informed the instructor that I might be young but I wasn't stupid and didn't find her joke funny.

Strange thing was, she didn't find me all that funny either.

The horse that I have now is a blessing to me. He is funny, kind, and compassionate, and we have a wonderful relationship. I visit him every day but if he doesn't want me to hang out, I love watching him as much as I love scratching and riding him.

I would really appreciate your thoughts on something that happened the other day.

I left home for college 9 months ago, and upon explaining the situation, my horse jumped right into the trailer. I told him that I would be leaving for almost a year and that he was welcome to come with me or that he could stay home. Stork and I always have a discussion for why he might want to get in the trailer, and if my reasons don't convince him, he knows I am not upset at all, I was only offering. He didn't like the barn I took him to, so he and I travelled around until he selected the barn that he wanted to be boarded at. (I would love to have my horse in my backyard at college as well, but unfortunately that's not quite possible!)

He came to love the horses, the people, everyone. I was regularly informed that my guy was just "so friendly".

But I digress. The end of the school year came, and it was time for me to come home. Out comes the trailer, and I ask Stork to get in so that we can go home. It will be his old pasturemates, etc. He doesn't get in and so I talk to him a bit more about it. He seems to ask me if we will ever come back, and I told him at the end of the summer. He plainly told me that if I would be coming back, he would just wait here because he liked it so much.

If I could have afforded to leave him there, I would have. However, I simply couldn't. I explained the situation to him, I begged him on the basis of our friendship. I talked to the owner of the barn, asking if I could pay him later, after I'd started working for the summer. Nothing.

I sat outside of the trailer with my horse for three hours. I pleaded, I asked, I cajoled, but he simply didn't want to leave his new friends at the barn.

So, with a heavy stone in my stomach, I put his halter on. I tried to lead him in. He was horrendously offended that I'd attempt to coerce him this way. He refused to get in.

Then, to make a horrible day worse, the man who was hauling my horse for me offered his "help" by way of grabbing a crop, smacking my horse's rump, and slamming the ramp closed behind him.

I didn't know what to do. I'd just violated every rule of friendship between us, but he was in the trailer.

And when I unloaded him 8 hours later at home, he refused to let me touch him. He walked into the pasture, still wearing his halter as I couldn't get it off him, and stood in the corner, ignoring the other horses who were all excited to see him.

I hope in time he'll forgive me, but I'm just wondering if you have any thoughts on the matter. I truly had no choice in the matter, he had to come home with me, but I can't think that scaring my loving and creative best friend into a tiny metal trailer is in any way justified by the need.

I appreciate any thoughts you might have. Anyone else to happens to read this, I'm open to all thoughts.

Kris McCormack said...

This message is for Kate --

I think the big "mistake" was not protecting Stork from the man who it him... and I think it is important to apologize to him for that. You must promise him that you will not let someone do that again. (And for sure, when you take him back to the barn near school use a different hauler.)

Apologize sincerely, as many times as it takes. And spend lots of time just sitting in the pasture with Stork without interacting. While you're sitting, bring a journal and write a love letter to him. Tell him all the reasons you appreciate him, write your apology down. Just be there with him full of love and appreciation for him.

Sometimes relationships hit a bumpy stretch. Please let us know how you and Stork work things out.

Lynne Gerard said...

A Response for Kate, pt. 1

Kate thank you for feeling that the Journal of Ravenseyrie was a place where you could share this extremely complicated situation with others. Your mortification at having to first impose your agenda upon an unwilling equine friend must have been particularly worsened by the "help" your hauler provided.

Even among the closest friends situations may arise where a breech of trust has occurred. I believe that when a real desire exists to restore harmony between individuals relationships are actually strengthened by these types of difficulties. If your heart is in the right place, Stork will indeed forgive you.

Kate wrote:
"I explained the situation to him, I begged him on the basis of our friendship."

I feel a little strange about this manner of appeal. I don't know how to word what I am feeling--its a little like you have given an ultimatum: "If our friendship means anything to you, please do this thing for me." Probably this is not how you phrased it, but maybe it helps you understand why using your friendship as a bribe injects something "negatively sticky" into an already tense moment. How do you feel about it, now that you look at the situation from a bit of distance?

Here is how I have come to presently look upon situations like you and Stork experienced: Let's consider that I have a very close friendship with a human and he has some kind of disability where some things he cannot do for himself and must rely on me to sometimes make decisions for him. Most of the time, our relationship is so equal that he and I forget he is not fully autonomous because of his disability. But then a situation arises where I realize I must make a decision that he will not like, but there is no other choice that I can offer him in that moment. We've a deep friendship and he knows that I would not abuse our trust, even though he might think this is what is happening in that moment. As a friend, who also has a responsibility to see that his day to day needs are in harmony with the way reality is in that moment, I may have to override his desire and impose my plan of action to assure that his needs are able to be taken care of in a manner that I can continue to be a friend and sometimes caretaker.
(cont. in next comment)

Lynne Gerard said...

Response to Kate, pt. 2

I don't know if the example in the first part of this response is a good analogy or not...but from the horses perspective, being subjected to the human world must sometimes seem like a disability because he is not able to always have a say or a choice in what happens in his life.

When one has come to relate to horses as equal beings, it is essential to give them as much freedom as we can in making decisions that concern how and where they live--and when we cannot give them complete freedom in such decisions, we make it very clear to them why in this rare moment, our will takes precedence over theirs. We take care to have analyzed our intentions and motives thoroughly before we act to determine that we indeed have no other option--but then we act, and we act with utter directness embedded in love, empathy and with a full sense within ourselves that we are making the right decision in this particular circumstance.

If we do not fully feel confident in the decision and the action we intend to make, we become incongruent and the horse cannot trust our intentions, no matter how much we remind him of our friendship. (This is what happened between me and Interessado in the porcupine episode.)

Kate, I have a little book that relays the wisdom of the ancient Toltecs (those that followed the light, not those that later chose to follow darkness). The book is titled, THE FOUR AGREEMENTS and is written by don Miguel Ruiz. The "four agreements" are:
--Be impeccable with your word
--Don't take anything personally
--Don't make assumptions
--Always do your best

Now that you are beyond that situation, you need to take an accounting of what you did and what you can improve upon, and let the anguish and guilt melt away as you make a promise to yourself and to Stork that you will "always do your best".

Ruiz writes, "Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next." and "If you break an agreement, begin again tomorrow, and again the next day."

You and Stork have a new day, a new beginning and you each now know more about each other than you did before. Everything is going to be wonderful if you make it so, by moving forward, together and doing the best you can with whatever situations arise.

Lynne Gerard said...

June, Hilary,Kris and Kate,
Thank you for sharing your good wishes for this new filly...I'm sure such congratulations and positive feelings influence her destiny in good ways!

Kimberlee, thank you for dropping by the JofR as well and leaving your personal perception of things.

eva said...

A belated happy birthday to you, little one, and congratulations to Lynne and Kevin for another gorgeous filly.

I find it so interesting how different and individualized they are even a few days old. Last year it was Encantara, the dancer, and this little girl looks so meditative. A deep thinker? Do you have a name yet? Are they two half-sisters running and playing with each other yet? I hope we'll get some footage soon.

BTW a tip for improving movie quality: Upload to youtube in HD, and embed from there. It's on my list to try out....

Kate Little said...

I'm sorry it has taken me so long to tell you what happened with Stork, but my world has been very busy.

About a week after we brought him home, he finally stopped ignoring me, and rather emphatically. He barreled into the barn, pulling all his tack off the shelves. I realized that he must want to take me somewhere so I didn't bother with any tack, just slid on him bareback. He carefully stepped out, then bolted for the woods. It was all I could do to hold on, he was running so crazily. He took a branch on the trails that I'd never taken before because it goes off our property onto our neighbor's. He slowed down, but kept winding through paths that I had never been on with him. After we'd traveled several miles from the barn, he dashed off the trail, crashing through the underbrush, and then suddenly he slowed, carefully picking his way through the woods. When we stopped, it was near a large tree with these huge, majestic branches. Upon closer inspection, there was a fawn sleeping near the roots of the tree. I was in awe, and would have stood there forever, until Stork grabbed the back of my shirt and started dragging me away. I followed him back through the woods, wondering only "how did you find this place?"

Since then I am sure that he as accepted my apology, and he now pays as much attention to me as he ever did. He has such a passion for reaching children and teaching them about horses, and we've resumed giving lessons at home. I am so glad for Stork, and so glad that he chose me to be with.

Thank you, Kris and Lynne, very very much for the advice. I think it helped. And just a side-note: looking back over my previous post, I can clearly see how "asking on the basis of our friendship" comes off as manipulative. I didn't mean it in that way, merely that I was asking him to trust me, as we'd done so many things together and he must know that I wouldn't ask something of him that he didn't want to do unless it was very, very necessary.

Thank you once again for everything.

lightalive said...

Of course that the Sorraia is more probably the iberian tarpan, the indigenous wild horse from South Iberia.
New and recent scientific articles did confirmed that.
Check up Sorraia Folheto for detailed information.
Just as en example, the only known picture of an european tarpan does show an horse much alike Sorraia:. for example, with leg stripes and a dorsal stripe ( despite that the picture was taken in East Europe).
I´m very happy that you are trying to breed this subspecie to save it from extinction.
Congratulations and good luck!

Lynne Gerard said...

lightalive wrote:
Check up Sorraia Folheto for detailed information.
Welcome to the Journal of Ravenseyrie, "lightalive". You may have chanced upon this place through a google search? If you become more familiar with the work my husband and I are doing here, you will quickly realize that we are no strangers to the Sorraia Folheto, but in fact work in coordination with it--and the link to both of Hardy Oelke's websites are present in the side bar of this blog. (But maybe you were directing your comments toward another participant in this discussion?)

At any rate, I appreciate your enthusiasm for the preservation of these horses and hope to read more from you in the future.